At your service: working at the Shelbourne
It’s not glamorous, and it’s hard work, but at least Conor Pope discovers how to get an upgrade when he goes behind the scenes, and front of house, at the Shelbourne Hotel
‘Remember my name; remember what I like; remember how I like it; make it happen fast, and say thank you,” barks the man I know only as JD. We are standing in a cramped, windowless room behind one of the most lavish hotel receptions in the country and I am wondering why he is talking to me like a character pulled from the pages of some dodgy S&M novel.
JD softens his tone and tells me these are the five steps I need to take to reach service excellence standard in the Shelbourne Hotel. I start to worry. I have a terrible memory and won’t remember the thank yous, never mind the names of the people I will be serving. I am also a tiny bit clumsy. I keep all this to myself.
JD hands me Nuacht, a 13-page stapled newsletter stuffed with information about upcoming company events, inspirational can-do messages and, most importantly, the names of all the guests checking in in the hours ahead. As the Shelbourne’s guest relations manager, he spent last night poring over today’s check-in details. With the help of Google, LinkedIn and various booking websites, he has listed all incoming guests and highlighted those among them who might be “influencers” – important people we will need to work extra hard to impress today.
I hope I don’t meet any influencers – I don’t feel very impressive. It is very early and my Shelbourne Identity is struggling to come together. I have failed to tie my tie properly, I don’t have a white handkerchief – does anyone? – and in the half light of dawn I couldn’t find the “black business socks” I was ordered to wear.
JD fixes my tie, hands me a hanky and gets me breakfast. I am suddenly seven again. As we head to the breakfast room I get ready for a treat. This is a five-star hotel after all. But what comes next is no treat. There is no crispy bacon, no plump sausages, no beautifully grilled tomatoes or lightly sautéed mushrooms. All the staff canteen has are cornflakes, thin white bread and the worst coffee I have ever tasted.
We eat downmarket and talk upgrading. “The upgrades are all done before the guests arrive and I decide who gets them,” he says, shattering my illusion that I can charm the receptionist into giving me a suite. “Ultimately it comes down to how much you pay and how long you stay. If you are staying one night and have paid a premium, you have a better chance,” he says. “I also like to highlight those who have booked through Tripadvisor. If they come through there, there’s a good chance they’ll post feedback afterwards, so we may as well try to wow them.”
I make a mental note to book all my hotels through that site in future. It is a note I will never remember.
As I eat my toast morosely, I catch a glimpse of a notice board draped with fairy lights. It is the Good Ideas board. This is where staff post money-making or money-saving ideas. Each month management sift through around 40 entries and the best notion wins €1,000.
Recent winners are scribbled on the board. Some are blindingly obvious. “Open a gym and spa” won one staff member the cash, while another walked away with the prize for suggesting that people on reception upsell breakfasts. The hotel’s three course super-fast supper which is served in the Lord Mayor’s lounge came from the box, as did its new jazz brunch.
One idea is particularly brilliant. A junior front-of-houser suggested that the constantly revolving conveyor-belt toaster in the staff room be replaced with a regular toaster. Simple, right? It saves the company €8,000 a year in reduced energy costs. The new toast is horrible mind you.
JD and I take a turn in the hotel lobby. We walk through smiling and saying hello to everyone and we gracefully spring to the assistance of those who look like they need it.
Well, I say we . . .
I see an old lady walking towards the revolving doors at the entrance. Helpfully, I point to the side door. She looks at me like I have murdered her cat and am offering its entrails to her as a breakfast treat.
“I know there is a side door. I am quite familiar with it, in fact,” she scowls. I’m about to blurt out: “I was only trying help you, old crone” when I remember where I am and who I am supposed to be. It is a lucky escape. It’d be awful to be sacked in the first hour. I’d have missed all the bag carrying then.
Bag carrying is a big part of my job and it quickly becomes apparent that Americans come with more baggage than Twink and have learned the art of packing from dowager aunts who crossed the Atlantic on regal liners in the early part of the 20th century. They could do with Michael O’Leary putting manners on them, frankly. They spill out of taxis with ridiculous amounts of higgledy piggledy luggage, which I have to neatly stack on heavy brass trollies which cost €7,000 a pop. For that kind of money you’d think they’d have power steering. They don’t.